I use Google’s Picasa software to manage and organize my photos. I have over 30,000 photos. I bought a new computer and had to transfer those photos to a new hard drive. Guess what? The photos are fine, but a lot of the extra information associated with them is not fine. I’m not a happy camper.
Now before I get into what improvements Picasa needs, let’s start with the positive. And let me just say that I’m still a fan of Picasa even though we’re in a fight right now (let’s just say Picasa’s been sleeping on the couch lately).
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT PICASA
- Easy, Clean, Intuitive
The interface is absolutely stellar when it comes to functionality and usability. The sidebar always has your folders, albums, and collections grouped in collapsible lists. The bottom toolbar always has your basic organization and functional tools, accompanied by a “photo tray” so you can see what’s selected. The photo area loads thumbnails rapidly and scrolls lightning fast.
- Albums and Collections
Picasa allows you to organize your files any way you like on your hard drive (I do mine by nesting dated folders) and that’s how they show up in the “Folders” section. Folders can be grouped into “Collections” to help further separate things out (I separate my family shots from my public photography). “Albums” allow you to group photos from multiple folders and collections into a single folder-like entity. The album merely points to the files in their existing location rather than making a copy of the file. These are great tools for grouping and organizing a large number of photos.
- Exporting and Emailing Photos
The export and email tools are great for making duplicates of originals. The tools basically act the same, but the email function just couples with GMail instead of dumping photos to a location on your hard drive (great time saver). Photos can be sized down and scaled back on quality, which is particularly useful for web applications and photo-sharing sites. The email option integrates nicely with your GMail account and eliminates the need to manually upload attachments — just hit “Email” pick your contacts, write a message, and send it.
- Quick & Dirty Photo Editing
The photo editing capabilities of Picasa are nothing in comparison to Photoshop or even Lightroom, but they’re really not bad for the simple stuff. These tools are great for doing minor touch-ups on the family photos and such. The thing that I really like about the photo editing tools is that they don’t actually change the original file. Adjustment information is stored in the “Picasa.ini” file located in each photo folder on the hard drive. Picasa sees the adjustment information and shows the adjusted photo. You also have the option of applying those adjustments, which then creates a new file to replace the original, and you’re given the option of backing up the original in a sub-folder. Any adjustments not applied to the original are applied when doing an export or email function, so there’s really no need to apply the adjustments.
- Search Capabilities
Well, Google is the “Search Master”, so it’s only fitting that the search function works pretty smooth. You can search for keywords, descriptions, camera name, and some other metadata information. The search happens real-time and basically works like a filter that updates with each letter you type. It’s fast, and it keeps the results in their original folder, collection, and album locations.
WHAT PICASA COULD DO BETTER
- Better .JPE Support
I know that the .JPE extension isn’t really mainstream for JPEGS, but they do exist. My old KM 7D is probably one of the few cameras left that produces these files, but I’m sure it’s not the only one left in existence. Picasa seems to have a difficult time dealing with .JPE files. The photos show up fine and I can do just about anything I can do with a .JPG or .JPEG file, but there are a couple of severe annoyances.
EXIF data isn’t available for viewing — and I’m sure it’s not an issue with the EXIF information. If I manually change the extension of my .JPE files to .JPG, POOF… the EXIF suddenly appears! Keywords have a similar issue. I can apply keywords to my .JPE files, but they don’t actually stick to the files. It seems like they’re just stored in the Picasa database or something. Interestingly, all my .JPG and RAW files keep their keywords right in the photo file — like they should. Then when you change computers or software, you don’t have to worry about losing many hours of keywording.
- Keywording Interface
Aside from keywords not sticking to .JPE files, the other issue I have with keywording is with the interface. I love the fact that I can keyword right from Picasa, but it looks a lot like an afterthought. A little pop-up window is used to enter or remove keywords. It gets in the way, it’s too small, and it feels really archaic. The keyword interface also needs an easy way to enter keyphrases — the current interface won’t allow the use of quotes or plus-signs to join words. What if I want to keyword my photos with “San Diego”? I have to use San, Diego, or SanDiego — and I don’t want to. Also, the “Caption” interface sucks too. Picasa stores the “caption” as the metadata description when it’s more like a title. Giving the option to add a “Title” and “Description” to photos would be awfully handy.
- Star System
It’s nice to have stars available to separate the good from the… not so good. But ONE star? Last time I looked, five seemed to be the norm. The more serious photographers have a need to star images at different levels. This gives priority to our work and it adds another level of separation and categorization to our images. It’s nice that the current star method stores the “starred photo” information in the “Picasa.ini” file rather than the database (otherwise I would have lost a lot more information while switching computers), but surely there must be a way to keep that info in the metadata.
- Database Export/Import
Picasa has a way of doing a “Backup” that includes all the database information along with the photos, but once you have tens of thousands of photos, that’s not really an option. I want to be able to just backup the database, transfer my files manually, and import the old database. This feature alone would have saved me days of work that I have yet to (re)complete. Why is it so hard to transfer files to a new computer? It happens all the time — people upgrade hardware, new operating systems, computer crashes, etc. The Picasa database should be easy to transfer.
Currently, geotagging is done via Google Earth. Not everybody wants to use Google Earth to tag their photos. Why not have a choice between Google Earth and Google Maps? Just bring Google Maps up in the Picasa interface — take a note from Flickr. Also, I haven’t tried the geotagging in Google Earth, so I don’t know for sure where that extra information is stored, but my guess is that it doesn’t reside with the photo metadata. Again, this is another reason I wouldn’t use the feature.
MY MAIN IMPROVEMENT FOR PICASA
Keep as much of the extra file information IN THE METADATA. Keeping some things in the metadata, some in the .INI file, and some in the database just makes using the software less portable — KEEP IT ALL IN WITH THE FILE.
I’ll continue to use Picasa as my organization software for my photo collections, but I don’t know for how long. If some major functionality improvements aren’t made in version 3, I may be looking elsewhere. I can’t keep re-keywording all my photos every time I get a new computer. Picasa really has the potential to be a great piece of software, I just hope it’s sooner than later.
For all the other Picasa users out there, what improvements would you like to see?